Mixed messages

Through the attic window, I can see the snow: so white, so light. It covers everything, like a beautiful blanket, and I ask myself again how it is that I am here? So far from the steep streets of Quito, its colonial-style houses with blue balconies, its tall, modern buildings and majestic mountains.

It seems like only yesterday that I was playing with the children and laughing as if I were one of them, singing songs and teaching them about Jesus, my Master, who taught me to love. But then a group of “gringuitos” arrived at my church on a mission trip to Quito, full of sweetness, generosity and love, their lifestyle matching their preaching.

A very special couple—Ormand Williams and Daphne, his wife—loved me particularly, and I loved them from the start. Before leaving for the United States, they invited me to come study at Mars Hill College and even offered to pay my tuition. So I came and lived with them, and they treated me like their own child.

I was 18 years old then, and because this was my first experience away from home, away from my country, my nostalgia just grew and grew. The world seemed way too big: There were so many stores, so many products, so many people, so many opportunities for new life experiences.

My dear daddy, Gerardo Moncayo Moncayo, was a university professor. And from the time I was a child, he taught me English—one of the most important and precious gifts he gave me. English has opened doors for me, allowing me the rare privilege of getting to know interesting people from all over the world. Most of all, it has enabled me to understand life with the richness that only diversity can bring.

But I’ve also experienced a culture shock that I haven’t been able to completely overcome.

During my first winter here, I was struggling through the snow, my arms full of art materials for my classes. Just like in the movies, two kind gentlemen rescued me, helping me across the street. As they left, however, some classmates told me coldly and boldly that if I ever talked to “black men” again they would never talk to me.

I told them angrily that they were just showing their ignorance and racial prejudice, and that I would never go along with such an absurd attitude. After that it was a long, cold, silent winter.

When spring finally came, I had the honor of sharing my life with students from many countries: Thailand, Switzerland, Germany, Mexico, Nicaragua, Argentina, Colombia. We learned together, enjoying our cultural differences as we shared the common dream of becoming better human beings.

I also had the joy of living with my beloved host family in Weaverville. Through them, I learned to love the Southern-style breakfast: grits, sausage, eggs, homemade biscuits, and most of all the incomparable warmth of a traditional family.

But intertwined with that joy were a steady stream of painful comments and outrageous questions: “Do you dream in black and white?” “Do your people live in trees?” “I am sure that in your country there is no need for clothes, right?” “How do you feel as someone from a Third World country?”

All this and much more was part of my experience as an 18-year-old here. But that was 24 years ago, and things haven’t changed that much. In some ways, they’ve gotten worse.

I went back to my country in 2006 and had the honor of being by my daddy’s bedside during his final days. He admired this country for men like Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln and many others. My daddy was one of the first Ecuadorian students to receive a scholarship to study in the United States. He earned the highest grades, and it was here that he learned his love for the English language, which I share.

I came back this year with a thousand dreams—but at a time when it’s wrong to be of Latino origin, making it extremely hard to find a job. Despite being educated, proficiently bilingual and having the requisite legal documents, I have not had much success. Every single application has included a section asking about race and national origin—ironically, a federal requirement designed to help prevent discrimination—way before it asks about skills, abilities and experience.

Nonetheless, I feel a healthy pride in being Latino—a culture that not only contributes hard work and cheap labor to this society but that enhances the overall cultural richness through the many flavors of Latin American culture.

We bring in music, color, customs, traditions, family values and food. And we also make a significant contribution to the economy of our host country, the United States of America: the country that gave birth to real democracy, freedom of belief and respect for cultural diversity.

Since being back, however, I’ve been hungry, sick and anxious, and I haven’t found a single job opportunity. Meanwhile, I am once again hearing the same type of hurtful questions:  “Why don’t you try to go to Mexico to teach? It would be easier there.” “Oh, you’re from Ecuador? You must be so relieved to be here, far from the burning heat of Africa.” “What do you want here? I bet the only thing she cares about is getting the papers.” And, of course, “You don’t have to pay taxes, right? You’re just an alien!”

So I appeal to your hearts, your values and to the honored memory of those who came before you. And I ask you, as people of the United States of America, to lift up your voices to match your country’s spirit, so your children can enjoy a wonderful legacy of peace, of diversity, of love. Don’t let this story become part of a sad historical fact!

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